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GRAPE JUICES MAKE INDELIBLE IMPRESSIONS

When I can't get many fruits and vegetables into my children, grape juice always seems like a good compromise.

Taster's Choice panelists slurped down 13 cups of bottled grape juice and picked a couple of organic brands as their favorites. Close behind was the brand I stock in my refrigerator.

Woodstock Farms grape juice ($3.49 for 32 ounces from Nature's Finest Foods in St. Petersburg) was the favorite among panelists. They awarded it 80 of 100 possible points, and all four panelists said they would make a trip to the health food store to buy the brand.

"It has a very sweet, bouncy taste," said one judge. He especially liked the thinner texture and bright purple color.

Another panelist said it tasted liked "a real squeezed grape" and said "this is very pleasant and would make a great Popsicle."

Another organic juice, Santa Cruz ($3.99 for 32 ounces from Nature's Finest Foods), earned 75 points. Despite the high marks, though, only two of the four judges said they would buy the brand.

The judges who liked the juice were impressed with the thickness of the mixture. They also raved about the deep color. Panelists said it blended sweet and tart flavors and had a "mouth-filling, pleasant" texture.

"It has a deep, inky purple color - a white pants' nightmare," said one judge.

Those qualities were a turn-off to the other panelists, who complained about the "merlot color." One described the juice's texture as "dishwater" and likened it to "a damp handshake."

Welch's grape juice, the juice of my childhood, was the third choice among judges, who gave it 73 points. Again, two of the four said they buy Welch's juice ($2.50 for a 64-ounce bottle from Publix) and would continue to do so.

My 8-year-old daughter, who stopped by for part of the tasting, correctly selected the Welch's sample out of the group and described it as "very smooth."

One of the judges said the juice was "classic, clean and grapey." Another said the juice had a fruity nose and a refreshing taste. "This would be nice over ice or even as a cocktail mixer," she said.

Also sampled were juices by: Walnut Acres Organic ($4.29 for 32 ounces from Nature's Finest Foods); R.W. Knudsen Just Concord Organic ($5.79 for 32 ounces from Nature's Finest Foods); Nature's Place Organic ($3.49 for 64 ounces from Sweetbay); Albertsons ($2 for 64 ounces); Publix ($2.39 for 64 ounces); Juicy Juice Harvest Supreme ($3.29 for 46 ounces at Albertsons); Market Pantry ($2.54 for 64 ounces at Target); Hannaford ($2.49 for 64 ounces from Sweetbay); Publix Organic ($3.99 for 64 ounces); and Archer Farms Organic ($3.29 for 32 ounces from Target).

Panelists were: Nan Jensen, registered dietitian with Pinellas County Cooperative Extension; Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of Studio@620; Times food critic Laura Reiley; and Jim Yockey, aesthetician at Indulgence Medical Day Spa. All foods were tasted blind. Send suggestions for product tasting to Taste section, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or e-mail to jkeeler@sptimes.com. Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to www.sptimes.com/food.

Grape juice rankings

1. Woodstock Farms

2. Santa Cruz

3. Welch's

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